Objects of Desire

I just got back from sex camp (my nickname for the annual retreat I co-produce at a rural camp facility), and I've got sexual objectification on my mind. It was six days of classes, special events, parties, and rituals. One of the events is called the Garden of Carnal Delights, and it takes place in a series of connected rooms. Each one has a different erotic theme, and the Objectification Room is the most controversial of them all.

Five single beds are lined up in the middle of the small space and a large purple opaque curtain hangs from the ceiling dividing the beds in half, so that when people (called objects) lie on them, only the bottom halves of their bodies are visible to spectators.

The majority of the objects are women, though there have been a few men, and some of the participants don't offer their genitals up for play (one guy offered his mouth for oral service and wore a hood to mask his identity). Objects sign up in advance and fill out a form indicating their sexual limits. The limitations are then posted on a sign hanging from the curtain above each bed under the headings Yes and No. "Yes: vaginal penetration only," "No: fisting," "Yes: spanking, anal penetration with toys," and "No: playing with my pussy" are just a few. Once the objects (identified on the sign by number) are placed behind the curtain the Garden opens to attendees.

Participants are free to sexually use any of the objects as long as they follow the rules. Safe sex is mandatory, and there is no verbal communication between object and user—the exchanges are completely anonymous. There are monitors on either side of the curtain just to make sure everyone behaves. If an object needs to get the attention of the monitor, he or she rings a bell.

The Garden was created by Vlad and Cindy, a married couple who live on the Upper West Side and are active in the BDSM scene. "We came up with the Objectification Room because we saw this dirty French movie that had this scene in it that really turned us on," says Cindy. "We would watch it over and over. The scene had people divided at their midsections on beds, and people would sexually use people regardless of who they were or what they looked like. It was a hot idea for us." The couple believed that other people would be turned on by this fantasy, and that it might be something folks would get off on. They built it, and people came.

Now in its third year, the Objectification Room has gained popularity, and people sign up well in advance to play the role of an object. Vlad and Cindy teach a class about the Garden for newcomers, and it helps that attendees from previous events know what to expect. Based on participants' feedback, the objectification fantasy touches a nerve in a lot of folks. "When people thank us, it's very sincere, and you can see that it meant a lot to them to be able to explore this," says Cindy. Vlad adds, "One guy came up to me at breakfast the next day and said his experience was amazing. He said he got laid four times. Judging by the way he looked, I'd guess that's probably more sex than he's had all year."

The concept of giving people permission and space to treat others as objects for their sexual gratification sounds like a feminist's worst nightmare. But to hear the creators describe it, it sounds like a space for people to have sexual experiences regardless of physical appearance: it strips away the judgments we all make about one another, letting us exist in a space where there's no flirting, small talk, seduction, or even eye contact.

One woman, who has been an object two years in a row, says the experience is transformative. "I like being used and I like not knowing what's going to happen. It's about the challenge and pushing myself to do whatever they wanted. I like being scared, although I know I am safe. The curtain allows freedom for the other person and allows me the freedom to not have to look at them while they are there." She got a note from someone who used her, sent via one of the moderators who knew her identity. The writer thanked her for allowing him or her to experience things he or she had never done before. "The first time I was an object, it was spiritual. I didn't expect that. I had risen up, endured for others, sustained the humiliation of being probed and used."

A bi male attendee who had sex with an object said at first he was hesitant, "I was raised a feminist. I am guided by consent in sex. I host orgies. I talk to people about negotiating limits. Here, the limits were printed on a page to read. There were no opportunities to seek clarification." In the end, he liked the experience, but found that it made him vulnerable: "I know how glory holes operate, and this was something like that, so that became my first framework of reference. . . . I like anonymous sex, though I have experienced it either in private or in a group setting. Here, I was kind of . . . exposed as liking it."

Another object, who did it for the first time, told me, "I've had a long-standing fantasy about being a hole. I'm a submissive and part of my kink is being used. I like the idea of having no say. . . . I've felt like that before, being a hole there for someone's use, but it's been as part of a larger relationship and there was trust, and it's always been a huge turn-on for me. I think that's what made me think I'd like it on a larger scale and in a more anonymous way." As it turned out, it wasn't what she expected. "The experience was very interesting. Not a sexual turn-on at all, which was a surprise. I don't get off on being a dirty little whore; I get off on being someone's dirty little whore, if that makes sense. I don't think I realized that before this experience."

"This year more than ever, I realized how much it was a form of edge play," reveals Vlad. "Edge play" is a BDSM term usually used to describe activities that are considered especially risky, like cutting, piercing, or playing with guns. "This was not about intricate techniques or complicated accoutrements. It was mental edge play. I know this because there were lots of people who signed up to be an object then backed out at the last minute. It was like they were standing on the edge of the cliff, but they just couldn't jump."

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